We’ve written two prior posts in our Reality Check series about the recent GateHouse article “In the Shadow of Wind Farms” (Part 1 and Part 2). In these articles, we’ve reported on the gross imbalance and the false equivalency GateHouse used in its recent anti-wind energy series.
In this third article, we’ll document the extent to which GateHouse went to ignore widely available facts to further the narrative it told to readers.
GateHouse is a major media outlet, owning more newspapers than any other company in the U.S., according to an in-depth piece on the company from Harvard University’s NiemanLab. Other major media outlets take great care to ensure the accuracy of their photos and graphics, given their narrative power with readers.
One example of this is the use of a video to show what homeowners experience from “shadow flicker,” the repeated blocking of the sun by the rotating blades. The series misleadingly presents flickering as a constant problem for homeowners. GateHouse states:
“When the sun passes behind those blades, it creates a strobe-like phenomenon called shadow flicker that can disorient and nauseate those forced to live with it.”
However, flickering is largely remediated by the way turbines are positioned relative to nearby homes. And flickering is a very limited problem, according to a new analysis by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In the recent analysis:
“Of respondents living within 3 miles of a turbine, 2.3% qualified as ‘strongly annoyed.’ These are people who are annoyed and report health symptoms. People annoyed by shadow flicker were a tiny portion (.2%) out of that.”
GateHouse notes in its own story that flickering averages 200 hours a year, averaging a little over half an hour a day.
The use of this video veers from longstanding journalism practices of ensuring they accurately portray the reality the story is telling – and that they actually align with the facts in the story itself.
GateHouse reporter Emily Le Coz did not respond when asked for comment about why shadow flicker was portrayed to be such a big problem, nor did she respond when asked if they would amend their report in light of the new research from Berkeley Lab.
GateHouse also seems to have ignored the facts about the impact of popular, pro-wind federal policies.
The story declares that “Taxpayers funded nearly two-thirds of Caithness Energy’s Shepherds Flat Wind Farm. It has 338 turbines across 32,100 acres in northern Oregon.” But that assertion is contradicted by the facts of financing for the project: Of the $2.1 billion spent on the project, the developer only received $30 million in state tax credits that equates to 1.4 percent of the project’s capital costs. The Department of Energy (DOE) provided a federal loan guarantee, which, according to the DOE, is on track for repayment, according to the Department Loan Guarantee Office.
The series also declares that “two factors fueled the boom” in wind energy: State Renewable Portfolio Standards and the federal Production Tax Credit. But while those factors contributed to the boom, they weren’t the only factors fueling wind power’s growth, as the unqualified headline indicates.
According to a Scientific American article from last year, wind energy’s costs have dropped to at or below natural gas’s costs excluding the effect of the Production Tax Credit (PTC). That’s the result of a big drop in commercial execution costs for wind energy, including more efficient equipment and the use of big data to drive wind farm operations.
We asked GateHouse for the backup for its sweeping declaration, but the company did not respond to our email outreach.
As a last point, it was unfortunate that GateHouse told readers that wind farm disturbance had “driven dozens of families from their homes,” but was unwilling to supply any actual validation for this startling assertion.
GateHouse is a powerful media outlet, boasting a combined readership of 21,000,000, a reach that few media companies can match. But its seemingly willful, stubborn departure from basic journalism practices is startling, and a direct hit to the credibility of its reporting.
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